The Unknown Writer Who Saved Star Trek

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

When fans talk about the Star Trek titans who have made the franchise so great, they often talk about creator Gene Roddenberry and amazing early actors like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. But when talking about Star Trek, we also really to talk about Michael Piller.

Michael Piller And Star Trek: The Next Generation

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The franchise would not be alive today if not for the massive success of Star Trek: The Next Generation and that show most likely would have died if not for the contributions of a writer who doesn’t get nearly enough credit in the fandom.

Michael Piller took over as lead writer for The Next Generation’s third season, and his simple rules for writing made the show a success. It forever improved Star Trek.

Getting To Know The Characters

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To understand this writer’s contribution to the franchise, you need to understand a big part of what made early episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation so bad.

It wasn’t just things like the overt racism of episodes like “Code of Honor” or Gene Roddenberry’s bizarre rule that there could be no conflict between our characters.

It was also the fact that we didn’t really get to know these characters because each episode (like most of The Original Series) focused more on aliens and technology than on character development.

The Human Condition

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When Michael Piller became head writer for Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third season, he instituted a very simple rule for his writers: each episode needed to develop our characters and their relationships in some way.

Our ship and crew would still boldly go and get into crazy space hijinx, but along the way, we’d learn more about the men and women who made this crew so special.

This was so important to Michael Piller because as he would later state in an online chat, the “Human condition” is something “which this franchise does better than any other when it does it well.”

Voyager And Deep Space Nine

Piller was so successful on Star Trek: The Next Generation that he was invited to help co-create both Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

He even served as showrunner on DS9 before being replaced by Ira Steven Behr so Piller could focus exclusively on Voyager.

Piller served as lead writer on Voyager for the first two seasons and later served as a consultant for both that show and Deep Space Nine, and both these spinoffs continued to embrace his creative ethos of focusing on characters and character development.

Embracing The Fans


In addition to shifting the writing focus to the characters, Michael Piller instituted one more policy on Star Trek: The Next Generation that helped the franchise thrive.

As lead writer, he had an open-door policy for anyone to submit spec scripts, and this led to the development of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and other fan-favorite episodes.

Speaking of fan-favorite Next Generation episodes, Piller himself was the cowriter of “The Best of Both Worlds,” generally considered one of the best Star Trek episodes ever made.

The Star Trek Heart And Sould

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Sadly, Michael Piller died in 2005 due to head and neck cancer. He was only 57, but he leaves behind an amazing creative legacy that has touched and inspired millions of fans, whether they know Piller by name or not.

He brought the heart and soul back to a franchise that had become too focused on gadgets and alien makeup, effectively embracing the marketing tagline of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: “the human adventure is just beginning.”  

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